After Oakland Fire Tragedy, NYC Activists Rally Against ‘Dance Ban’

New Yorkers dance illegally at the legendary Paradise Garage, in the 1970s.

If there’s anything certain in this world, it’s that New Yorkers love to cut the rug. Perhaps counterintuitively, then, in the city that gave us bebop, salsa, disco, and hip hop, it is illegal to dance in most public establishments. That’s because New York’s cabaret law, enacted in 1926, requires bars and restaurants where three or more people are dancing to have a special cabaret license, which is nearly impossible to get.

Passed during the Harlem Renaissance, when racial integration and anti-establishment thinking were on the rise in swinging jazz clubs, the cabaret law allows police to fine or even shut down places where people dance. Although some egregious original provisions (like outlawing saxophones) have been lifted in subsequent decades, opponents say the law is still an assault on freedom of expression, an instrument of oppression against already marginalized communities, and that it forces would-be dancers out of safe, highly regulated spaces and into potentially dangerous settings. Continue reading “After Oakland Fire Tragedy, NYC Activists Rally Against ‘Dance Ban’”